Adventures in Thrifting

Like most young married couples in their early 20’s, Clay and I furnished our first home together (a 700 square foot apartment on the banks of Lake Ontario) on a tight budget. I remember tearing pages out of catalogues that would arrive in the mail and then browse the aisles of TJ Maxx and Walmart (the closest city didn’t even have a Target at that time) using the overpriced furniture and decor featured as inspiration. Almost 15 years later, I still appreciate Pottery Barn as much as the next suburban SUV-driving mom but I only occasionally will purchase items from there – and when I do, they are very much marked down!

If you walk through our home, you will find a hodge-podge of new, hand-me-down, and thrifted furniture and decor. I love a good thrift store (who doesn’t) and one of my favorites just happens to be near our daughter’s preschool so I always manage to pop in every week or so to see what is new prior to picking her up.

It is actually a consignment/thrift store so there is always a wide spectrum of pieces and price-points. However, there are always a lot of color-coded markdowns and deals to be had. I loved this large rooster tin plate – not for $15 though. It’d look great on a wall. I’m going to see if it sticks around long enough to be marked down. Then it will be mine (…evil cackle…).

I have no need for a telephone chair (we don’t even have a landline) but I’m a sucker for these types of furniture pieces that tell the story of a different time.

I couldn’t stop looking at this clown.

And it couldn’t stop looking at me.

At $5.00, this creepy topless boy statue was a steal!

Are thrift stores where broaches go to die? Perhaps we should have a moment of silence for the wicker rocking chair broach above – I can’t image a place or time where one would say, “I know!!! I’ll wear my wicker rocking chair broach – it’d be perfect!

I wrote a thrifted dress to my senior-year prom. It did not look like this. Although, I kind of wish it did. As they say, the bigger the bow on your hip, the closer you are to God.

You know, there aren’t enough belts available to the general public that can double as a WWE Championship prize. Did I say that right? I know absolutely nothing about pro-wrestling other than the fact that I am supremely creeped out by men who can’t put their arms down against their sides.

I’m always on the prowl for thrift stores beyond Goodwill and Salvation Army. I haven’t found anything in the DC metro area that rivals the West Bottoms neighborhood in Kansas City but I’m not giving up hope. After all, part of the allure of thrifting is the hunt.


A Day Date

A friend from high school posted on Facebook this morning that she was going to see Regina Spektor perform. Having been a Regina Spektor fan for quite some time, I was immediately hit with pangs of jealously, which were promptly followed by waves of nostalgia and then the peculiar feeling that I refer to as happy sad set in.

I discovered Regina Spektor back in 2006 during Clay’s first deployment in the remote mountains of Afghanistan. Her songs accompanied the at-times crippling feelings of uncertainty and longing. Samson would be playing as I noted how his smell had left his side of the bed and the clothes hanging in his side of the closet. Weeks would pass before I would hear his voice – Us would often be on a loop in my head as I willed my phone to ring. And when I would finally hear his beautiful voice on the other end on the line, my heart would sing the opening notes of Fidelity.

Clay’s current position necessitates a grueling schedule that includes travel around the world that is often times last minute. When the opportunity presented itself for him to compete for it, we discussed what it would mean for our family. Perhaps we were a bit caviler but we were both of the mindset that we had gone through much more difficult separations and experiences, so while it wouldn’t be a walk in the park – it also wouldn’t be that bad. But my goodness, I’ve been missing that dorky guy when he’s away. I’ve grown soft in my years, apparently.

So when we learned that he would have a random pass (day-off) in the middle of the week, we jumped at the chance to look at each other face-to-face and have a conversation dripping with pop-culture and political puns that doesn’t takes place at 11pm on the phone. After dropping the kids off at school, we hopped on the metro and found ourselves at Founding Farmers on Pennsylvania Avenue, a super popular restaurants that we’ve been wanting to experience for ourselves (even though Tom Sietsema of the Washington Post doesn’t think it lives up to the hype).We ordered the four-cup Compass single origin french press to split, as well as Uncle Bucks’s Beignets, which came with raspberry, caramel, and chocolate sauces. Clay had the traditional ham eggs benedict with a farmers salad (we split the sides) and I had the tomato florentine eggs benedict with the leek hash browns (pictured above). We both agreed the the hollandaise sauce and leek hash browns were the best parts but overall, our meal was quite tasty. However, we probably won’t order the beignets again unless the kids are with us.

We walked off our meal to the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, which is along the National Mall. We experienced the Trace exhibit by Ai Weiwei, which features lego portraits of individuals that have been “detained, exiled, or have south political asylum because of their actions, beliefs, or affiliations.”

We both enjoy going to art museums and appreciate many styles and techniques (we even took the same Art History class at Clemson!) but modern and conceptual art aren’t exactly our favorites. Even so, we did manage to find exhibits at the Hirshhorn that prompted some interesting discussions on our part. Like I couldn’t stop laughing at the guard (docent?) casually leaning against entrance to a room that featured a woman’s voice and falling paper. The guard was holding a folded piece of paper and looked terribly bored as she fiddled with it in her hands. As I’m typing this, I’m now wondering if she was part of the installation – maybe it was performance art? Doubtful. But possible, I suppose.

The Safe Conduct piece wins our award for the most bizarre. It apparently set in half an airport security checkpoint and half an organ bank. There is an avatar that endlessly pulls the skin off his face. Sorry – no pictures – you will have to experience that one for yourself!

One of our favorite pieces at the Hirshhorn was Abbottobad, which was a sculpture of the compared where Osama Bin Laden hid for years in Pakistan.

After the Hirshhorn, we had enough time to pop over to the East Building of the National Gallery of Art. We had been to the West Building last time we were stationed here but never made it to the East Building, so we were quite pleased we were able to fit it before having to trek it back to Virginia to pick up the kids.

This Jackson Pollock was my favorite (real original, I know…). I could stare at Number 1, 1950 (Lavender Mist) for hours and never get bored.

Clay and I have been together for sixteen years now – we were teenagers when we met and fell in love. There are days that I can’t believe that my heart still plays the opening notes of Fidelity when he steps off an aircraft after one of his trips or that listening to Samson will immediately cause happy sad to wash over me. We have to be more purposeful about our day dates now because kids, work, life. And a lot has changed over the years. But then again, some things have stayed the same. And that is pretty amazing.

A Little More Seasoned

Eight years ago today, the little guy entered our world. On the surface Clay and I were ready. We had been married for five years, we had been parents to our dog for almost as long, and we had gone through quite a number of difficult experiences unique to military life. We were seasoned. And like so many before us, we were woefully underprepared for the adventure known as parenthood.

No amount of decorating a nursery or buying diapers in bulk prepares you for the wave of responsibility, fear, and love that overwhelms you the first time you hold your baby in your arms. In the moments after the little guy was born, I was so happy (and not just because it was an easy labor), but only a few pictures exist that showcase a beaming smile on my part. Most of the pictures look similar to the one above – me staring at him with love, confusion, and apprehension.

Clay deployed shortly after Weston’s birth so for the first year of the little guy’s life, it was just me and him. We learned together. It was hard. But we survived. When Clay returned from Afghanistan, the little guy walked up to him at the airport and squealed. Despite the fact that our first year as parents was defined war and separation, we felt seasoned – or at least we felt a little bit more prepared as we ventured into new territory.

We eventually added a little girl to the mix and now here we are – eight years later – feeling like we have the hang of this whole parenting thing. Most days, at least. But a lot sure has changed since our son was first placed into my arms.

So happy birthday to my favorite little guy. Unfortunately, the Army took Clay away again but Weston is resilient. He understands. And that is one of his many amazing qualities. He will forever be our first baby and even though we feel more confident than we did eight years ago, we will continue to go into uncharted territory together. We’re still scared. But at least we’re a little more seasoned.

29th Parallel Coffee

Yesterday morning, I texted my dear friend, Jackie, to see if she was interested in grabbing a cup of coffee with me after our children were at school. I figure that since I am currently not working outside of the home, I might as well lean into the stay-at-home-mom-of-school-aged-kids persona. We agreed to meet at 29th Parallel Coffee in Fairfax Station and after throwing my hair up into a top-knot and putting on my best leggings (because stay-at-home-mom), I safely delivered the kids to school and drove to the unassuming shopping center where 29th Parallel Coffee resides.

I’ve heard people rave about this place and it is one of the highest-rated coffee shops in the Washington DC Metro area on Yelp so I was a bit taken aback by the outside appearance. I was expecting Brooklyn hipster vibes – not strip mall chic with abandoned dental offices. But guys? Once we got inside, 29th Parallel Coffee did not disappoint. At all.

My coffee snob tendencies were home. These were my people. Jackie and I chatted with the owner, Amir, and he expertly informed us all about the available coffee. Where the coffee was sourced, the chemistry behind the extraction process, and how the soluble flavors from the coffee are dissolved in the water. Jackie ordered a mocha that was made with fresh ground and tapped espresso on a machine that reminded me of the one I used while working at Harrington’s Coffee Company in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. Like I said, I felt like I was at home. To this day, the hissing of an espresso machine remains one of my favorite sounds.

I opted for pour-over coffee. Also known as hand-drip coffee (as opposed to automatic-drip), pour-over coffee involves a kettle with a narrow spout, a special carafe, fresh ground beans, and patience.

I selected the REKO from Ethiopia. According to Amir, the beans had tasting notes of citrus, lemongrass, molasses, and ginger. As soon as he began grinding the beans, I knew I made the right choice and forced myself to be patient as he started the pour-over process.

My patience was rewarded with what may have been the best cup of coffee I’ve had in recent memory. Can you believe that I actually forgot to take a picture of the final product? I feel like I need to be beat with a blogging stick or something…bad blogger – bad!

I enjoyed my pour-over coffee with a splash of fresh cream. It was smooth, lush, and had absolutely no bitter aftertaste that is often present in even the most well-prepared cups of coffee. Jackie and I also each had a spinach and cheese quiche (which I also forgot to photograph but you can see a corner of it in the picture above of her mocha). 29th Parallel Coffee has a daily grind (pour-over), a daily drip (automatic-drip) during peak hours, espresso drinks, nitrobrew (cold strong coffee infused with nitrogen), assorted pastries, and seasonal items. Please stop it for yourself. Bring a friend. Have a chat with Amir. I promise you won’t be disappointed. We certainly weren’t.

29th Parallel Coffee

5616 Ox Rd
5616 Ox Rd, Fairfax Station, VA 22039

That Time I Didn’t Bloom

I didn’t love Texas. At least not compared to the last couple of assignments the Army has thrown our way. As one who has shouted the merits of blooming wherever you happen to be planted, I found it quite frustrating to feel so disconnected from myself and others in a city as vibrant as San Antonio, Texas. Not only did I not feel like the best version of myself, I felt guilty for feeling that way because so many other people love the area. I felt like a fraud. Because no matter how hard I tried, I simply could not bloom.

view from our back deck

Military families are no stranger to being plopped into landscapes that we otherwise would never find ourselves living. “Bloom where you’re planted!” is a mantra said by many, including myself. In Texas, I did everything I was supposed to do in order to bloom – I became involved with both of the kids’ schools, I got to know the other parents on their soccer teams, I joined a gym, we became active members in a church, we explored our new city at every given chance, we ate local cuisine, and we called San Antonio home. But no matter what I did, I always felt like an imposter. A fake. Someone who didn’t belong.

That’s not to say that there weren’t aspects of San Antonio I didn’t enjoy. I always had a blast at the Tejas Rodeo in Bulverde on Saturday nights. We loved Oaks Crossing, a restaurant attached to our neighborhood HEB where we could drink craft beer and listen to live music while the kids danced and ran around the outside turf. I found my favorite steak street tacos, pizza, and pho. We thoroughly enjoyed our church. I loved the non-touristy part of the Riverwalk near The Pearl, and Hill Country really is beautiful. But all of that wasn’t enough for me to bloom.

Now that we’ve been happily settling back into the national capital region for the past couple of months, I’ve been reflecting on why I wasn’t my best self in Texas. All I can come up with is that maybe we’re not meant to be at our best at all times. And it doesn’t matter how great a city, town, community may be – sometimes it just doesn’t work. And perhaps we should be okay with that. I do believe that I made the best of my time in San Antonio. I do have to remind myself that I am failing to bloom doesn’t mean that I didn’t try hard enough nor does it mean that I did anything wrong. It simply means that Texas Karen isn’t the best Karen. And that is okay.